Monday, October 17, 2005

VIA JUAN COLE'S POST TODAY, I came across this article by Massoud A. Derhally, in ITP Business, an Arabian English-language business magazine. Derhally quotes a number of sources (Prof. Cole among them) to support the conclusion that Saturday's referendum is not likely to end the insurgency or bring democracy to Iraq unless and until a number of other significant issues are addressed.

Federalism, in particular, has emerged as the key issue, because it permits Kurds to effectively run a secular system and allows the Shiites to discuss how issues of religious law will apply to civil life within their areas.

"Federalism is the key issue because it is the one that most concerns the Sunnis. That is not necessarily the primary concern of Shiites and Kurds. But it is the concern of those who thought the constitution might be a way of tying in the Sunnis and taking some of the heat out of the insurgency," explains [Neil] Partrick [of the Economist Intelligence Unit].
To some extent, Sunnis have accepted that there will be a highly independent entity called Kurdistan, but the idea that the Shiites are inclined to break away from Iraq themselves has caused real worries. "The constitution allows that as a possibility and it's aggravated the fears that the Sunnis have about whether this constitution can be another step on the road towards weakening the entity formally known as Iraq," explains Partrick.
If "the constitution is adopted on 15 October and a government is elected by 15 December without a strong political agreement underpinning its legitimacy, descent into civil war and disintegration, with mass expulsions in areas of mixed population, could well become a reality," the ICG [International Crisis Group] report said.

As was the case in the run up to drafting of the constitution in August, Washington's ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and other US officials have tried to shore up support for the referendum in Iraq, by pressuring or coercing the country's neighbouring countries into supporting the political process.

Arab support has largely been lacking and it remains to be seen whether Washington's pressure will have an impact on the country's future political landscape -- given that the majority view in the region is that Iraq is a country in a state of disintegration and there will be a weak central government.

"The United States has a strong interest in seeing the constitution -- any constitution -- ratified, and will do anything within its power to see that happen," says William Beeman, a professor at Brown University. "This has nothing to do with the welfare of the Iraqi people -- it is for the benefit of [US president] George W. Bush, who is in trouble at home."

Gregory Gause of the University of Vermont agrees. "I think that American diplomacy is all about getting the constitution approved. I think that the constitution, as it is written, will bring about a very decentralised, weak Iraqi regime with de facto Kurdish independence and, perhaps, a similar regional government in the south. But right now, Washington is focused on getting it approved," he says.

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